Death can arrive at any moment and for one anonymous woman it came when she’d been gestating a fetus for six months. Her shrouded body ended up tossed into a mass grave in a random cemetery. As a compassionate priest devoted a few words to her out of the goodness of his heart, the gravedigger covered her body with dirt. No one claimed or identified the cadaver, and the few folks who noticed her obvious pregnancy assumed that the baby had died along with its mother.
However that wasn’t the case. The fetus continued to nourish itself on her inert body and, just as blackness was about to envelop its incipient existence, the only power able to change its inevitable fate intervened. Death. Death itself, whose job was to carry off designated souls without a second thought, fixed her eye on that small creature. READ MORE…
Asked to review my year in reading and from it form reading resolutions, my immediate response is something I need to call an excited sigh. For months now, as a judge for the Best Translated Book Award, all I’ve read are eligible books, books published in the US translated for the first time this year. Yet, there were a few months before that reading took over. For years now, I’ve taken pleasure in not being partway through any books when the new year begins, so as to open each year fresh. This year, Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov’s The Golden Calf (trans. Helen Anderson and Konstantin Gurevich) made for a great New Year’s Day read. (To call it fitting, however, would be a lie.) The novel is hysterical, absurd, and clever, fueled by ambitious and clueless characters, fleeing and bumbling in pursuit of fortune.
Taking advantage of a bitter winter, I read the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy from Javier Marias (trans. Margaret Jull Costa). It is rare for a project so vast to also be unflagging in both its entertainment and ability to find new shades and twists for its ideas: of cultural memories, of what it is to read another human being, of violence and intimacy. But this trilogy accomplishes it. From it alone, I could pluck a number of examples of one of my favorite narrative tricks: to make a scene continue endlessly through digression after digression. Unlike any other art form, the novel is thus able to manipulate the experience of time, both of the readers’ and the characters’.
But yes, this year has been a culmination of reading more and more books the year they’re published. The best way I can think about it is by describing the books that stand out in little, meaningful ways. Starting with where I live, in Vermont, so close to Montreal, Quebec literature has had much of my affection this year. Not just the translations, like the Raymond Bock and Samuel Archibald story collections Atavisms (trans. Pablo Strauss) and Arvida (trans. Donald Winkler)—so similar in their arc as collections and interest in familial depths but with different approaches and destinations—but also classics like the narratively unsettled Kamouraska (trans. Norman Shapiro). Anne Hébert’s novel is as much a story of a women trapped by culture and time, and her murder plot, as it is a stylistic achievement, melding aesthetic with the narrator’s psychology. READ MORE…
This isn’t autobiography.
All the World’s Men
Every Thursday, my father has lunch with la abuela at her house in Palma.
We bought a roast chicken and la abuela explained that they’d been feeding them fishmeal for a while now. That’s why they tasted that way, and why the eggs tasted fishy, too. And years before that they would deliver live chickens straight from the farm, from Felanitx.
Once, one of her children told la abuela about another animal in the basket, but she didn’t pay it any mind. She left the large crate in the walkway for two days until the stench became unbearable. Only then did she go look, and sure enough, there alongside the chicken was a dead rabbit swarmed by flies. They delivered them dead like that because if not, they’d piss all over. The household maintained a certain aversion to rabbits from that day on.
“Not only that, but you also had to boil it to make sure it was still good. Back then you boiled everything just in case,” my father said.
“In those days, entonses, they said it wasn’t good to eat the chicken skin, it’d give you some kind of sickness, a terrible stomachache or something like that,” la abuela explained.
And my father says: “They’d say you’d turn into a maricón.” READ MORE…
I remember a hedgehog devoured by ants; we found it near the house and wanted to feed it milk from the tetra-brik carton. It was dead by morning. I remember my brother wanted to taste an ant because the Chinese eat them, so he put it in his mouth while it was still alive and spit it out because it stung. I remember my cousin pulled out a dock tire at the pier and that a crab jumped out, she got scared and let go and it crushed the crab, it pushed the guts right out through its mouth, sprtz. Afterward we hurled the body into the water and it floated. I remember the time I picked up a log and pinched a lizard hiding underneath; I could swear it cried out. We spent some time observing that detached tail, my cousin, brother, and I.
I don’t come here often and these memories have nothing to do with nostalgia.